* Poland to buy U.S. Patriot missiles in $5 bln tender
* Says eyes Airbus helicopter in $3 bln tender
* France says Poland to have key industrial role
(Adds comment from U.S. State Department)
By Wiktor Szary and Marcin Goettig
WARSAW, April 21 Poland said on Tuesday it would
buy Raytheon Co's Patriot missiles from the United
States and provisionally selected French Airbus Group
helicopters as it speeds up the modernization of its military
amid tensions with Russia.
The choice of suppliers, in deals potentially worth $8
billion, strikes a trans-Atlantic balance as Eastern Europe's
largest economy re-arms itself on NATO's frontline while edging
toward a bigger role in Europe's defense industry.
"For the armed forces' technical modernization and the
Polish armed forces' resilience to be effective, the so-called
anti-missile shield ... had to become the priority of
priorities," said Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.
Poland will enter exclusive talks with the U.S. government
on the Patriot missile defense system. It plans to buy eight
missile batteries by 2025, including two within three years of
A consortium of France's Thales and European group
MBDA was also competing for the $5 billion missile defense
contract - the largest in Poland's military history.
The United States said it welcomed the announcement from its
stalwart NATO ally.
The program "is expected to generate at least $2.5 billion
in U.S. export content - that means supporting American jobs at
home and growing our manufacturing base," U.S. State Department
spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
Poland, a NATO member since 1999, had accelerated the
process to select a supplier for the missile system after
Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula last year
prompted great concern among NATO members in Eastern Europe.
Since the end of the Cold War, Poland has usually kept
closer defense and security ties with the United States.
But in the past few years, policymakers have been lobbying
for a stronger security relationship with the rest of Europe,
especially after the Obama administration scaled back its
missile defense shield plans in Eastern Europe.
Poland also named the Caracal EC725 of Airbus Helicopters as
its preferred choice in a $3 billion utility helicopter tender,
subject to army testing, dropping U.S. and Italian competitors.
It trimmed the potential order from an original 70
helicopters to 50. This would still represent Poland's biggest
defense acquisition from Western Europe since the end of the
Cold War. Deliveries could begin as early as 2017.
The helicopter decision was seen as delicate because rival
bidders Sikorsky, United Technologies Corp's helicopter
unit in the United States, and AgustaWestland, owned by Italy's
Finmeccanica, have factories in Poland whose unions
had warned of job losses.
A French defense official said the Caracal helicopters and
their Turbomeca engines would both be assembled in
Poland as part of a wide-ranging industrial pact. Airbus has
offered what could evolve into "fifth nation" status for Poland
alongside its Western European founders to support its bid.
The official said Poland had monitored France's decision
last year to suspend delivery of warships to Russia over its
role in the Ukraine crisis, but denied any explicit link between
that move and Poland's decision to buy French hardware.
Poland said that because of "changing security
circumstances," it had decided to speed up a separate
acquisition of attack helicopters.
Four companies have expressed interest in supplying some 30
units in a deal already brought forward by two years in light of
the crisis in Ukraine.
(Additional reporting by Tim Hepher, Doina Chiacu in
Washington; editing by Crispian Balmer and G Crosse)